Immediately, Walt Before Mickey seems very strange to viewers- it’s a film about Walt Disney that is not made by the Walt Disney company. Actually, Walt Before Mickey was made for a microscopic budget of under $1 Million. Unlike Saving Mr. Banks, a Disney biopic made by the company a few years ago, Walt Before Mickey shows Walt Disney as a young struggling artist and animator in Kansas City and Los Angeles, struggling with poverty, poor money management, and a constant sense of hopelessness.
Walt Before Mickey certainly gets credit for showing Disney at such an overlooked point of his life. Walt is still, in some ways, the dreamer modern audiences think of him as, but here he’s broken by the impossibly odds of breaking into animation, the apparent untrustworthiness of Hollywood and the film industry, and financial dire straights. At his lowest, we see Walt dressed in rags, eating scraps of the garbage, and talking to a mouse in his pocket.
Thomas Ian Nicholas gives a strong performance as Walt Disney, capturing his vision and motivation, but also his fear and doubt, with it all seeming so natural and self-spoken. On occasion, he stumbles over some clunky dialogue, but he usually recovers very quickly. The film’s other big star, Jon Heder as Roy Disney, seems quite out of place, and is still unable to break away from Napoleon Dynamite.
Most of the other cast members simply falls flat in their rolls, but also many come and go so quickly in the film’s out-of-breath pacing that they do not have much time to endear themselves to the audience. The ‘villains’ of the films- untrustworthy business partners and impatient co-workers- practically twirl their mustaches while sinisterly laughing, which is incredibly strange since the film does show their side of their story and ultimately restrains from making them the “bad guys”
Walt Before Disney is a good natured biopic, but it often lapse into melodrama, and seems to simply go through a bulleted list of scenes most generic biopics contain, including several groan-inducing scenes where Walt comes up with now well-known ideas. Although it’s interesting to see a partially broken Walt Disney, the film seems rushed and only grazes the surface as moves from plot point to plot-point.
Walt Before Mickey ultimately seems uninspired, just hitting the major points of Disney’s young life as well as biopic cliches, like the screaming discouraging father. Although the lead gives a strong performance, he gets little help from the rest of the cast. However, despite being boring at points, Walt Before Mickey accomplishes a lot with a small budget, and is certainly an interesting look at the life of the young Disney.